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Pompeii Tries to Pull a Titanic... and Blows Up Instead

<i>Pompeii</i> Tries to Pull a <i>Titanic</i>... and Blows Up Instead

DVD Release Date: May 20, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: February 21, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content)
Genre: Action/Adventure, History, Drama
Run Time: 98 min.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Joe Pingue, Kiefer Sutherland

While it’s clear the filmmakers were going for a Titanic-level of epic with Pompeii, at least they had the foresight not to drag the disaster out for three-plus hours.

Despite knowing when to say, “it’s a wrap,” however, a better course of action would’ve been to simply scrap the project altogether. See, unlike Titanic, the real star of Pompeii isn’t the people. It’s Mount Vesuvius, and the massive destruction that unfurls once it finally erupts.

It’s then, and only then, when the movie’s $100 million budget is somewhat justified because as weird as it is to say it, the carnage is impressive. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have sacrificed a little of the CGI splendor and hired some better actors and screenwriters.

As the Jack and Rose characters of Pompeii, Milo (Kit Harington, TV’s Game of Thrones) and Cassia (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) may look pretty and have a similar poor-boy-romancing-the-wealthy-girl dynamic before tragedy inevitably strikes, but unfortunately, they share exactly one forlorned facial expression between them. Adding insult to injury, the script, penned by Batman Forever alums Lee and Janet Scott Batchler, is funny for all the wrong reasons with too much informative—and wooden—dialogue.

Speaking of unintentional humor, one of the worst casting errors involved the movie’s most recognizable—and usually reliable—talent. As Corvus, the Roman commander who slays Milo’s whole family and remains a constant threat to Milo’s happiness, Kiefer Sutherland (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) not only sports an English accent that comes and goes with each passing line but the sheer campiness of his performance seems tailor-made for a Saturday Night Live skit, not a major motion picture. It’s impossible to take him seriously, and yet he’s supposed to be the story’s most feared antagonist, save for the volcano.

Meanwhile, Milo, who was raised as a slave, is having a true rags-to-riches moment as he transitions from a poor, put-upon ruffian to a strong, chiseled gladiator. Sent to Pompeii to battle Atticus (a scene-stealing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Thor: The Dark World), the pair wind up forging a friendship that’s far more believable than the romance Milo has with Cassia, the daughter of Pompeii’s leaders Severus (Jared Harris, Lincoln) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss, TV’s Vegas).

In what’s pretty much the worst meet-cute ever, Milo and Cassia cross paths as she’s fleeing Rome, not to mention some unwanted advances from Corvus. When her horse breaks its leg, the oh-so-chivalrous Milo sets up the romance for the ages by lovingly snapping the poor nag’s neck. Naturally, Cassia is duly impressed with his equine know-how, and the rest is history.   

And then just like Romeo and Juliet and Jack and Rose, Milo and Cassia pledge to love each other forever, despite the near-constant opposition to their romance. Unfortunately, just as things begin heating up for the couple (no pun intended), the volcano erupts. Cue the poor man's "My Heart Will Go On."

Like so many films that favor flash over substance, Pompeii is yet another example of wasted potential. While there were moments that hinted at thoughtful historical reflection in the beginning, Pompeii quickly devolves into flat, uninspired storytelling with one-note characters and some pretty cool visual effects. Basically, as much as Pompeii wants to be Titanic, it fails spectacularly.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Wine is consumed on a regular basis.
  • Language/Profanity: A single use of bit--.
  • Sex/Nudity: A passionate kiss. A sexual innuendo. Lingering camera shots of the gladiators’ toned bodies. The women often dress in revealing, low-cut dresses. Reference to a brothel.
  • Violence: People die in dramatic fashion throughout—stabbings and strangulation are shown on several occasions. We see several soldiers who are bleeding pretty profusely, and there’s also hand-to-hand combat. The most gruesome instance is when a man’s finger is bitten off (we see what’s left, essentially a bloody stump). The eruption of Mount Vesuvius leads to significant carnage, and Pompeii doesn’t shy away from showing the people’s anguish. Men and women drown, are thrown from crumbling buildings, and some are engulfed in flames. A volatile cloud of ash transforms both civilians and animals into fiery statues.

Publication date: February 21, 2014